First, let me join Ross in applauding our own Aaron Goldstein for blogging about his opposition to Rand Paul’s filibuster. It’s not easy to take a position on something when everyone else on the website feels otherwise. And he’s right about one thing: what Paul did was political theater with an eye on the election calendar. That doesn’t invalidate the substance, and I don’t think Aaron says it does.
Reid and Ross have already written responses to Aaron. In the interest of not piling on, I’ll only address the part involving me:
Now Matt Purple makes a valid point when he says that Holder probably could have stopped Paul’s filibuster if he had come out and said that President Obama is not authorized to drop drones on American citizens going about their business on American soil.
But let’s be honest for a minute. Did Paul honestly think for even a second that Eric Holder actually believed President Obama thought he had the authority to wantonly drop drones in the middle of Kentucky? If he did then he’s even kookier than his Dad. But methinks the younger Paul does not honestly believe President Obama plans to drop drones on U.S. citizens on a whim. He’s much savvier than that.
Fair enough. But constitutions and laws don’t exist just to guard against threats in the here-and-now. One of the organizing principles of a constitutional republic is that human beings aren’t angels, as Madison said, and therefore government power must be checked, balanced, and limited to guard against any hypothetical abuse that could arise in the future. Eric Holder isn’t going to order a drone strike on an innocent U.S. citizen. But by not clearly answering Paul’s question, he risked setting a precedent for a future administration more inclined towards horrific abuse.
This may sound outlandish. But the entirety of world history is littered with examples of leaders abusing their military authority. Given how much executive power has grown over the past 12 years, and the enormous technological potential provided by drones, why shouldn’t we demand that an attorney general set the right precedent by clearly stating he’ll follow the law? This seems worth 13 hours of our time.
David Frum, he who spent the first half of his professional career casting anti-war conservatives out of the movement and writing a book titled An End to Evil, and spent the second half of his professional career lecturing conservatives for being too exclusionary and grandiose, took Aaron’s legitimate point to a sneering extreme on Twitter:
I feel so much freer now that Rand Paul has got administration to forswear a totally fictional plan to kill Americans with drones.— davidfrum (@davidfrum) March 8, 2013
My question for Eric Holder: what about all the OTHER things you're not doing? When will you promise not to do THEM?— davidfrum (@davidfrum) March 8, 2013
Ah, now there’s a pole against which to lean the political philosophy of western civilization! For example, Eric Holder isn’t currently throwing people in prison for speaking out against the government. So why should he have to say he’ll uphold the First Amendment? Eric Holder also isn’t leading an army of brigands down Constitution Avenue in an attempt to occupy the Capitol building. So by all means, let him waffle on the separation of powers!
We bind our government with laws because people in charge have a tendency of abusing power. Paul’s filibuster was a matter of principle, not policy, and it was worth it.